Past lessons on freedom, tolerance and smoking bans

Guest Columnist

Dr. Todd Greene, Guest Columnist

The last time WSC Student Senate pushed hard for a campus-wide outdoor smoking ban was in 2010.

That year a veteran of the war in Iraq approached me outside of Connell Hall. He smoked cigarettes.

This man confided in me that he had some Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Smoking calmed his anxieties.

He said he could not understand why his peers wanted to remove his freedom to smoke outdoors, especially after he had just protected and served the United States.

He asked for my help.

Investigating reasons for the Student Senate’s proposed ban, I came across a mole hill that had become a mountain.
Apparently one 2010 student senator had asked a smoker to put out his cigarette. Smoke was blowing through this student senator’s dorm window. The smoker, however, responded disrespectfully.

This student senator became so enraged that he vowed to use the authority of the Student Senate to ban outdoor smoking for all persons at Wayne State College. Other student senators followed suit.

The sheer pettiness stunned me. The veteran was equally shocked when I explained to him the underlying reasons for WSC’s push to ban his freedom to smoke outside. I could certainly understand being annoyed or angered by someone else’s disrespect.
What I could not understand, though, was how someone could wish to exact revenge against all smokers due to one negative encounter with one disrespectful person.

In addition, I was disappointed in the 2010 Student Senate for not embracing a foundational respect for American freedoms. Many WSC professors try hard to instill this in our students. Fortunately, the 2010 group dropped the outdoor smoking ban in favor of enforcing rules already in place.

The WSC Student Senate again wishes to ban outdoor smoking on campus. As it did in 2010, this seems petty to me.

Very few smokers even exist on today’s campus. They mostly consist of hard-working persons in their 40s and 50s who grew up in a world that did not label smoking as deviant behavior. They are student senators’ elders.

If today’s student senators do not want to encounter second-hand smoke, all they have to do is walk a couple of steps around smokers. It requires the same amount of effort as side-stepping a water puddle.

For the 2016 Student Senate to set out to ban the rights of their elders to smoke outdoors sends out many harmful messages. One message is that if you don’t like something, just use rules and regulations to get rid of it.


Imagine what the nation would look like if everyone thought that way. An opposite viewpoint is one of tolerance. Put simply, you tolerate negative behaviors in others (that only harm themselves) because you respect and value freedoms so much more.

A focus on banning outdoor smoking also diverts attention from much better uses of social power. In 2010 I stated that I believe the best lessons for student senators to learn involve using power to create opportunities that better peoples’ lives.
If student senators miss out on chances to create new freedoms and opportunities at WSC, and instead invest time and energy in trying to remove freedoms from a handful of elders, they fail to learn important life lessons. Fortunately the 2010 Student Senate class figured this out. They ultimately chose respect over one student’s revenge.

My wish is for similar life lessons to be learned by the 2016 class.

Dr. Todd Greene is an associate professor of Sociology at Wayne State College.

He was the recipient of the Outstanding Contribution to Students award from the University of Nebraska in 2005 and 2006.